Saturday, July 12, 2014

Christopher W. Mitchell

The news came in Friday evening, that Chris Mitchell had suddenly collapsed and died on a fishing trip in Colorado.  He loved the outdoors, and appreciated the natural essence of any place that he found himself in, so at least he had been doing something that he enjoyed and that would - as he would surely put it - help him appreciate the bounty of God's creation.  Though he was taken too soon - he was, I think, 62 or 63, and in wiry good health.
I would have liked to have introduced you to Chris Mitchell.  This photo will have to do.  Of the ones I've seen on various obituaries and tribute pages - there are a lot already, showing how widely he was known and admired - this is the only photo that really looks like him.
Up until a year ago, when he left for a new post that would be more teaching and less administration, he was the director of the Marion E. Wade Center, the Inklings & others study center outside Chicago.  Because he was not just an administrator but a scholar and polemicist, this made him - and I know he'd wince at this characterization, because he was both modest and sensitive to discourse - the high priest of Inklings studies in the US.  He was primarily a Lewisian, but he paid due attention to all seven authors under his care.
He did much to promote their study.  Some of those things I was involved in, and worked with him on.  He was the faculty sponsor and did much for coordination, setup, and running of the Lewis Centenary Conference in 1998; I was vice-chair and executive officer of that conference.  He made available the manuscripts and provided assistance, advice, and logistical help when I edited Charles Williams' The Masques of Amen House in 2000.  He began the process of getting the Wade's rare and valuable book holdings cataloged, and hired me to study the initial feasibility of this project.  We had many long conversations in his office over all these matters.
Most importantly, he accepted and applied the great donation that enabled the Wade Center to move out of a back room in the college library and into its own purpose-built, spacious, free-standing facility.  (And one with a state-of-the-art fire-proof vault for its rare-book and manuscript holdings.)  I attended the dedication ceremony for this building, and a joyous, companionable, and well-organized event it was.
Chris also did other, more personal, things for me.  He fed me Gino's East pizza.  He taught me the meaning of the Book of Job, or tried to.  He showed me the glories of midwestern fireflies.  His faith and spirituality were constants in his life, and, like Lewis, he refused to live in a holy void but applied them to his appreciation and understanding of this-worldly matters.  A good man, a man to inspire his auditors to their own best things.

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